Opera entrepreneur Lucy Woodruff provides her insights on why she created her Divas & Scholars project, and how opera-newbies can best penetrate this dazzling yet mystifying world.
Could you describe what Divas & Scholars is and why you decided to create this project?
I created Divas & Scholars to highlight the work of the opera singer and to enhance the enjoyment and understanding of this wonderful art form. I like to introduce people to exciting up and coming singers and also to give experts from the opera houses a platform to talk about what they do. For around six years we have run a programme of entertaining and educational events for opera lovers as well as for people new to opera. When I returned from living in Vienna where I had seriously developed my interest in opera, I thought it would be fun to take a course in London. There were only a few rather disappointingly dry courses offering ‘opera appreciation’ with a lecturer and no live music. I love working with performers and after inviting friends to hear some wonderful rising star opera singers in my house, I felt there was a gap in the market for events combining talks by experts with illustrative performances.
We also enable young emerging singers to access a professional network of experts from the opera houses, broadcasting etc. as well as potential patrons. At our events, the young opera singers work with established stars, singers and conductors, and are given paid performance opportunities in prestigious London venues.
What drew you to opera, to begin with?
Music and singing have always been a part of my life. However, I’m a just choral singer and so very much admire the vocal power and artistry of the opera singer who takes singing to another level. Opera combines theatre with exquisite music; there are passion and high drama. I lived in Vienna where classical music and opera is very important and I attended many wonderful performances at the Vienna State Opera. It was there that my interest in opera truly began.
What’s the biggest misconception about the world of opera?
It’s a cliche but many people think it might be a bit stuffy and old-fashioned when actually it really is the most exciting and vibrant art form with lots of fabulous young singers. Oh and not all opera singers are fat! They come in all shapes and sizes and increasingly casting directors are looking to cast performers who look the part as well as sing beautifully.
What are the most challenging parts of putting an opera event in place?
The biggest challenge is encouraging people to turn up! Marketing is so important Everyone who does come, is full of enthusiasm for the D&S events. The evenings are so stimulating. People enjoy the social element, networking with opera people as well as learning something new about opera – the plots, the composers, the history, productions.
Could you tell our readers what they should look for when considering attending an opera event for the first time?
Just enjoy the spectacle and pay special attention to the extraordinary vocal technique of the opera singers. Remember they aren’t wearing microphones and they had to memorise their role!
What do you think the future of opera looks like?
There is a mixture of views on this. The statistics appear to show that opera audiences are ageing, however, I see many young people in the audience when I go to the opera. Judging by the number of small companies springing up all over the UK as well as new country-house operas it would appear that the future is good. There is also a great deal of interest in the live streaming of operas direct from Covent Garden and the Met NYC to local cinemas which is great, but actually being at a live performance is much more thrilling.